Ingestion of Petroleum by Seabirds Can Serve as a Monitor of Water Quality

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Science  24 Jan 1986:
Vol. 231, Issue 4736, pp. 373-376
DOI: 10.1126/science.231.4736.373


The ingestion by seabirds of fossil fuel hydrocarbons and other pollutants has been of great interest. This paper reports that storm-petrels ingest petroleum at sea and that residues can be detected in their stomach oil. The incidence of gut samples containing fossil fuel hydrocarbons (dirty samples) increased significantly after oil spills, and significantly more birds regurgitated dirty samples after large nearby spills than small distant ones. This appears to be one of the first reported instances where individuals of a natural population of marine birds have been shown to ingest sublethal doses of oil from sources of low-level, long-term pollution or from oil spills. Because of certain natural traits, Procellariiformes could serve as monitors of pollutants in the marine environment.